Cuba’s Opposition: A Silver Bridge to Miami

Fernando Ravsberg*

Cuban dissidents camped out in front of the Spanish Foriegn Ministry.
Former Cuban prisoners protest in Madrid, requesting financial assistance from the government. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES — Recently, I met with the Cuban dissidents who have set up camp outside of Spain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, demanding the resumption of financial subsidies which, in their view, the Spanish government is duty-bound to pay them for an indefinite period of time.

They have been camping in front of the Ministry for over 400 days and have not yet received a reply from the authorities. The negotiations have ended: they are convinced that Spain must continue to subsidize them and Madrid insists that, having enjoyed 18 months of government aid, they must now find a way to make a living, like the rest of us mortals.

What’s more, the highly prosperous community of Cuban émigrés in the United States could well help their liberated comrades, those who, till recently, were heroes enduring prison under communism, in whose name declarations were written and public protests organized in Miami.

The problem could also be solved expeditiously if the United States granted these dissidents asylum, as it has done with thousands of Cubans through the Cuban Adjustment Act. But Washington says that’s completely out of the question: they’re already living in a democratic country and, as such, have waived the right they had when still living in Cuba.

In some cases, however, U.S. authorities prove to be far more compassionate, as they evidently were when they granted political asylum to the family of Oswaldo Paya, the Cuban dissident who perished in a car accident while campaigning across Cuba in the company of right-wing European political leaders.

The first version of events we heard was that the family had requested political asylum with a view to settling in Miami. However, they soon declared they would continue to work within the movement founded by Oswaldo and that they would travel to the island occasionally as part of these efforts, availing themselves of the Cuban government’s new and laxer immigration legislation.

Trying to lead an opposition movement in Cuba from abroad isn’t novel, but attempting to do so from Miami, combining the life of an exile with regular excursions to the island, shows some creativity. Such leadership, however, will not likely prove efficient, which is perhaps the reason Oswaldo Paya never opted to reside abroad.

The European politicians who were with Paya when he died declared they had travelled to Cuba to act as advisors for the creation of right-wing youth movements. Rosa Paya, Oswaldo’s daughter, seemed like the perfect leader for an organization of this nature: a young, pretty woman who is articulate (provided she doesn’t get too excited).

Following Oswaldo Paya’s death, she was put forth as the natural continuator of the Christian Liberation Movement and the Varela Project. The young woman and Paya’s other children drew some media attention after accusing the Cuban government of assassinating their father and for the vehement demands they continued to make as the heirs of the political movement.

For months, she led a vigorous campaign to be allowed to travel abroad. She was one of the first to travel, after the government finally normalized its travel policy. When she left, she declared she would return to Cuba to continue her father’s struggle. Later, however, she apparently changed her mind and took the rest of the family with her.

“We’re here as political refugees, but our stay here (in Miami) is temporary,” Rosa Paya told the press. Her words recall the declarations made by several generations of anti-Castro activists who have been leaving the island for over 50 years, never to return.

Oswaldo Paya’s children denounced the Cuban government before going into exile in Miami. Photo: Raquel Perez
Oswaldo Paya’s children denounced the Cuban government before going into exile in Miami. Photo: Raquel Perez

Cuba and the United States have been clashing over immigration policies since 1959. In Washington’s version of events, every Cuban who leaves the island is fleeing from communism. Havana, on the other hand, insists that the “migratory perks” offered by its northern neighbor are part of efforts to drain the country of human resources.

Time has demonstrated that the Cuban Adjustment Act has benefitted Cuba more than it has the United States. It works as an escape valve which opens from time to time to let out the most disaffected, precisely those who would have constituted a fertile breeding ground for opposition activities.

It also steered many political leaders and figures towards leaving the island, from dictator Fulgencio Batista’s acolytes to today’s dissidents, through those who took up arms against the government in the Escambray mountain range, clandestine paramilitary organizations and the wealthy, who left for Miami to wait for Uncle Sam to solve the problem.

Of the 250 political prisoners who were released thanks to a campaign headed by the Church and the Spanish government, only 12 decided to remain in Cuba and continue in their opposition activities. The rest packed their bags, gathered their relatives and headed for Spain, convinced they would be able to hop over to Miami from there.

For over fifty years, the United States’ immigration policy has sucked dry the pond where the island’s opposition could have swam, depriving this opposition of a base and a leadership. What’s curious is that, afterwards, Washington diplomats ask themselves why dissident movements aren’t prospering.

Havana continues to kick up a fuss about the Cuban Adjustment Act while allowing its political adversaries to leave the country, be it to live on the streets of Madrid, as though homeless, or beneath the protective skirts of the United States. The situation reminds me of the old proverb which says one should build a silver bridge for the enemy that flees.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by

10 thoughts on “Cuba’s Opposition: A Silver Bridge to Miami

  • July 3, 2013 at 1:36 am

    Sports people and artists are in a better position than most Cubans to take advantage of the wet foot / dry foot policy (see the Una Noche case). The government isn’t directly involved (did I say they were?), but as well as private recruiting there are exile groups who consciously try and create defections for political reasons (this is well documented). However the government must approve of this situation otherwise why do they keep this policy.

    A sensible approach would be to treat people as they really are – asylum seekers as asylum seekers, economic migrants as economic migrants, tourists as tourists and illegal immigrants as illegal immigrants.

  • July 2, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    Cuban trained health workers do not get special preference. Their training is sub-standard and does not relate to US medical practices. A Cuban trained “doctor” is equivalent to a US registered nurse, but without the specific job training. This fact comes as a big shock to many Cuban doctors who emigrate to the US only to discover their MD doesn’t mean much.

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